photo & text by nacrowe
by the time you get to PANTERA's final album REINVENTING THE STEEL (EAST WEST, 2000), a transition within the band's SOUND and RELATIONSHIP to one another that had been underway since THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL (EAST WEST, 1996) had basically come to fruition and fully calcified. namely this album was a band at the END OF THEIR ROPE CREATIVELY and INTERPERSONALLY.
in terms of their sound, the first two records COWBOYS FROM HELL (ATCO, 1990) and VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER (ATCO, 1992) were the sound of an incredibly tight BROTHERHOOD coalescing together while writing, living and struggling together to create and promote arguably some of the most COHESIVE and EXCITING METAL ever produced. those two records represent an ascent and upward trajectory both commercially and in terms of shared VISION and FOCUS as a CREATIVE UNIT.
once they hit FAR BEYOND DRIVEN (EAST WEST, 1994) some INTERNAL SHIFTS had occurred. for one, having been recorded in NASHVILLE it is the only PANTERA record to not be recorded in their home studio as everything before was in PANTEGO SOUND STUDIOS (formerly owned and operated by the ABOTT BROTHERS' father for decades) in ARLINGTON and everything after was done at DIMEBAG's home studio at his DALWORTHINGTON GARDENS residence. as such the record is ODD since it is both EXPANSIVE sonically and lyrically CLAUSTROPHOBIC with themes of DRUG ABUSE and MENTAL DEGRADATION. shortly thereafter its release vocalist PHIL ANSELMO had a HEROIN OVERDOSE on tour which shook the band to its core since for the first time the band's seemingly UNSHAKEABLE UNITY had been COMPROMISED. it was during this period also that ANSELMO pursued a major side project in the SLUDGE METAL supergroup DOWN, which the ABOTT BROTHERS tolerated but quietly chafed at given their allegiance and UNSPARING FOCUS to all things PANTERA.
unfortunately, this schism was manifested in THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL being conceived and recorded in two separate studios, the band in TEXAS and ANSELMO in LOUISIANA at TRENT REZNOR's NOTHING STUDIOS in NEW ORLEANS. this DETERIORATION continued on REINVENTING THE STEEL which to some listeners is the sound of a band in bad need of a well-deserved hiatus to recharge and regroup. which of course never happened as their world tour was cut short abroad by 9/11 and the band proved to never play live again thereafter as ANSELMO pursued an ever-growing list of side projects (DOWN and SUPERJOINT RITUAL among numerous others) without checking in with DIMEBAG or VINNE PAUL, leaving them in perpetual limbo for a few years.
for me the experience of listening to REINVENTING THE STEEL is a bit BITTERSWEET as there are some STANDOUT tracks like "YESTERDAY DON'T MEAN SHIT," "HELLBOUND" and "REVOLUTION IS MY NAME", but overall its LACK OF COHESION and VISION makes it emerge as the LEAST IMPRESSIVE PANTERA album by far. even sonically, at this point everything had DISINTEGRATED into PURE ATTACK and AGGRESSION, whereas before there was a PALPABLE sense of GROOVE involved, like a more TECHNICALLY ADVANCED and HARDER-HITTING ZZ TOP. maybe, like with METALLICA or SLAYER, the standard and expectation level with PANTERA is just so ELEVATED that they were bound to misfire eventually, but the whole effort feels like a WASTED OPPORTUNITY for such an INNOVATIVE and POWERFUL band that basically kept the METAL flag going in the 1990s in the wake of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
you also can't help but wonder what would have happened if the band just took an extended break, got some side project records out of their system and STAYED IN COMMUNICATION so that when they eventually regrouped theyd be ready to actually fire on all cylinders again having reconvened as a more MATURE and FORGIVING UNIT, both CREATIVELY and INTERPERSONALLY. that of course never happened and the band is permanently a "WHAT IF" scenario only further solidified by the TRAGIC DEATH of DIMEBAG and the subsequent health problems of VINNIE PAUL that led to his PASSING from natural causes a decade later. the modern iteration of the band, nobly carried on with close friends of the ABOTT BROTHERS and METAL all-star recruits in ZAKK WYLDE (BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, OZZY OSBOURNE) and CHARLIE BENANTE (ANTHRAX, S.O.D.), still pales in comparison to the ENERGY, CAMARADERIE and SPIRIT of the original which sadly flamed out at the turn of the millennium with their final released effort.
i should also mention that this was the period i saw the band play OZZFEST on one proved to be one of their last national tours of the UNITED STATES. although the band was AMAZING, you could definitely see the divide in retrospect as ANSELMO mumbled his way through his seeming CHARLES MANSON phase while DIMEBAG was in full, VIBRANT flight DAZZLING the audiences with his GUITAR HEROICS. it definitely appeared like an odd couple but a DEGRADED PANTERA was likely better than most bands at the top of their game so INCREDIBLE was this band.
i wouldnt recommend REINVENTING THE STEEL as it is my LEAST FAVORITE PANTERA record. for me any of the first three albums is a great starting point for this LEGENDARY and highly INFLUENTIAL METAL band, undoubtedly of the first order right alongside BLACK SABBATH, SLAYER and JUDAS PRIEST.